Awed by killer giants of the deep

SIMON COLLINS hops on a boat in Puget Sound to picture hunt orcas in the Salish Sea

Poor orcas. Imagine being called killer whales. Talk about a bad rap.

Humans hunt and kill animals for meat yet we don’t get called killer apes.

Orcas could have just as easily been named “sea pandas”.

These somewhat random musings arose as the Saratoga — the pride of family-owned whale watching business Puget Sound Express’ fleet — hurtled through Puget Sound towards the Salish Sea in search of sea pandas off the coast of Seattle.

Sorry, orcas — or Orcinus orca, the biggest member of the dolphin family. Now, there’s a mammal that gets good press.

And in the case of the pods in the Pacific Northwest waters between Washington State and Canada, a few bad ‘uns give the whole mob a bad name.

The resident orcas — there are three pods of about 75 whales in total — don’t eat other mammals. They’re fussy, preferring to feast on salmon, and then just the chinook or king salmon.

However, on the four-hour whale-watching tour with Puget Sound Express, the pod we discovered happen to be the transient killer whales. Also known as Bigg’s orcas, these beasts think nothing of tossing around a poor seal or sea lion between them before chowing down.

After puttering out of dock at Port of Edmonds, through Puget Sound and into the sea, another vessel radioed in that a pod of orcas was lurking near San Juan Island and the Saratoga put the nautical pedal to the metal, reaching 35 knots.

Once bitter rivals, the whale-watching companies now let each other know when they spot orcas, or humpbacks, minke, fin, gray or blue whales.

Puget Sound Express guarantee you’ll see a whale or receive a free ticket to use within 12 months.

We sped north, phones buzzing with automatic messages from Canadian mobile providers, until we eventually eased to drift between San Juan and Lopez Island, where a small flotilla had located the transient pod.

Right on cue, the orcas — including two juvenile brothers, with six-foot dorsal fins, and a playful three-week-old calf — headed our way, occasionally leaping out of the water...

Simon Collins flew to Seattle with Singapore Airlines and was a guest of Visit Seattle and the Port of Seattle. They have not reviewed or approved this story.

This is an edited version of the original, full-length story, which you can read here.

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